Indiana football junior quarterback Jack Tuttle stood tall in the pocket when delivering a touchdown pass to senior tight end Peyton Hendershot. He took a hit to pay for it, fell to the ground sandwiched by an Ohio State defender and had to be helped off the field by Indiana’s trainers.
So in Saturday’s 54-7 loss to No. 5 Ohio State, freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley was tasked with piloting an offense that has been mediocre at best all season and leading it to a historic upset over a team Indiana hasn’t beaten in 32 years.
More realistically, McCulley was tasked with bringing any sort of life to an offense that scored one touchdown against three Big Ten teams entering the game. The game wasn’t yet over when McCulley took over for a full drive trailing 14-7, but it would be soon.
The offense failed to kick start under McCulley. Indiana lost eight yards on three plays and punted, so when it returned for drive three, head coach Tom Allen sent sophomore Grant Gremel to the field.
“That was never a thought going into the season,” Allen said in a postgame press conference. “But your starter’s down, your No. 2 goes down, and now you’ve got one scholarship quarterback left healthy. Next man up.”
The Hoosiers were trailing 21-7. Gremel, a walk-on from Noblesville, Indiana, threw his first career pass on the drive, a five-yard completion to Hendershot. Three plays later the Hoosiers conceded a safety.
McCulley, who had never thrown a pass in a game before Saturday, stood no chance of holding up against a top-five team in the nation. Neither did Gremel. Neither did Tuttle, who returned for two plays in the second quarter before leaving the game for good.
Allen said Tuttle was undergoing treatment after the game. Although his X-rays came back negative, Allen said he was receiving an MRI to check for ligament damage.
“He’s in a lot of pain right now,” Allen said. “Don’t know more yet on that but definitely without him in there, it just wasn’t quite the same.”
The offense was entirely outmatched. So was the defense, which gave up its most points to Ohio State since a 56-17 loss in 1983.
"We've gotta flush this,” senior linebacker Micah McFadden said. “This is a start to a completely new season for the Hoosiers."
Indiana’s offense produced its best drive on its first drive in each of the last two games.
On Oct. 16 against Michigan State, Indiana opened the game with a 70-yard, 13 play drive before settling for a field goal.
Against Ohio State, Indiana moved 75 yards up the field on 15 plays, capped off by Hendershot’s touchdown catch. Its opening drive in the second half was its second best, moving 52 yards before a turnover on downs caused it to stall.
But when the Hoosiers didn’t set up its drive in the locker room beforehand, they could create nothing. After their opening touchdown, the Hoosiers lost 21 yards for the rest of the half.
McCulley finished the game with 11 rushes for nine yards. He only threw six passes.
“There’s definitely some concerns of him just being ready for that,” Allen said. “I did not want to put him in a bad spot, to get back there and have to make some complex reads.”
Indiana’s third longest drive was the 17-yarder that ran out the clock. Freshman running back Trent Howland, who made his first career appearance on the last drive and ran for all 17 yards, was Indiana’s leading rusher on the day.
The Hoosiers started the season ranked No. 17 in the nation. Seven games later, they’re 2-5 and scrambling to find a system that works and a healthy quarterback.
Allen said it’s time for Indiana to lean back into its LEO culture.
“That accountability, that toughness, is paramount at this point,” Allen said. “As tough as tonight was, it’s one that we just have to put in the trash and press on.”